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What to expect after my blind date with the HUAWEI P40

Phone makers might be taking pre-release hands-on demos a bit too seriously these days.

Published onMarch 10, 2020

Mystery Box

Last week, I had one of the strangest experiences in all my years as a technology journalist. I went hands-on with the upcoming HUAWEI P40 in London, but a little too literally. I didn’t see the phone, but was allowed to touch it hidden away in a box. (No, I’m not joking.) Even so, after that rather odd experience and speaking with cryptic HUAWEI representatives, we have a pretty good idea about some of the features coming with the HUAWEI P40 series.

First up, the renders revealed earlier in the year seem accurate. There is indeed a large rear camera housing on the back of the phone, not unlike the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Make of that what you will. Unsurprisingly, photography is a key feature of the upcoming handset, which we’ll get to in a minute. There’s plenty of room in the large housing for at least three cameras.

The HUAWEI P40 also features a new curved display concept that’s similar to the P30 series. It’s certainly not as drastic as the HUAWEI Mate 30 Pro’s wrap around edges. The power button and small volume rocker remain on the upper right side, so you won’t have to contend with software controls. Finally, those hoping for a return of the headphone jack will remain disappointed.

We didn’t receive any specifications during the briefing, but did spot a slide that matched everything we know about the Kirin 990 SoC. Though, it would be more surprising if the phone used a different chip. The handset will include fast UFS 3.0 storage, LPDDR4X memory, and 4K HDR video capabilities. Based on the slides, the HUAWEI P30 series will use the higher-end 5G version of the chip. There is also a 4G-only Kirin 990, but Huawei representatives would neither confirm nor deny if they’re planning regional 4G and 5G versions of the phone.

Focusing on photography, unsurprisingly

kirin 990 5G vs 4G comparison

Photography prowess has defined the past several generations of HUAWEI’s P series and the P40 is no different. The company promises a second generation periscope zoom camera. It might not aim for the furthest zoom distance (we know zoom claims are often dubious anyway) but the company hopes to provide best in class quality. We’re likely looking at a much higher resolution sensor than typical zoom cameras.

Our HUAWEI representative also alluded to improvements aimed at night photography, specifically noting that the P30 Pro has the same focal length for day and night shots. Presumably, this will change with the P40 Pro. This suggests something like a Samsung-esque variable aperture or a dedicated low-light camera with a unique sensor and lens setup. Interesting, but frustratingly vague.

HUAWEI P40 series announced: Zooming by competitors
HUAWEI P40 Pro Rear housing zoomed in

The company is promising a new “Super-Visual” image system, which suggests a rather broad overhaul to the cameras — much like we saw with the adoption of SuperSpectrum sensors. AI and imaging algorithm enhancements are also a core part of HUAWEI’s recent camera setups and there’s good reason to expect further improvements. AI improvements could impact everything from hybrid zoom quality to scene-based color grading and bokeh blur.

The HUAWEI P40 is set to sport a complex camera setup but is striving for simplicity of use. The motto “Easy to Use with Intelligence” splashed across one of the slides and it was made clear to us that typical consumers simply want to press the shutter and end up with great pictures. Think an ethos closer to the simplicity of a Google Pixel rather than complex array of “Pro” shooting options.

New materials, no Google apps

HUAWEI AppGallery

We already know that the HUAWEI P40 won’t ship with Google apps and services (GMS) due to the infamous US trade ban. Instead, the handset will rely on HMS and HUAWEI’s AppGallery.

The AppGallery is in a bit of a state at the moment, but HUAWEI has some 3,000 engineers working on HMS Core and is even planning to open up offices in London to be closer to Western app developers. It still remains to be seen how HMS will affect HUAWEI’s deployment strategy with the P40 and whether or not it will be more readily available than the Mate 30.

What is HMS? All you need to know about HUAWEI's new mobile ecosystem
HUAWEI logo Mate 50 Pro

Finally, representatives also teased the HUAWEI P40 range may appear in some new materials. Sadly, again, we don’t have specifics, but the spokesperson noted HUAWEI has worked with vegan leather before — not forgetting that we’re already expected a wide range of colors when the HUAWEI P40 launches in just a few weeks time.